After nearly forty years of careful observation I’m just beginning to grasp the technicalities and nuances of American football. I was first introduced to the game at a USAF base in England and was totally bewildered by the constant change of players; offense running on and defense rushing off the field every few minutes. What on earth were they wearing all that gear for and why did they call it football when, as far as I could see, only one man on the field actually put his foot anywhere near the ball? I was definitely a soccer fan in those days.
I quite enjoyed cricket, too. My father, having been denied a son, felt obliged to at least teach me the rudiments of the game and even showed me how to bowl a googlie. But that was, I have to admit, the extent of my interest in sports.
Since then I have broadened my horizons considerably and have plenty of pictures to show for it, although I don’t expect to see them in Sports Illustrated anytime soon.
I’m full of admiration for those sports photographers who are able to capture that one sparkling moment when the player scores a goal, dives for a touchdown or dunks the basketball. Most of my early attempts seemed to result in a blur of activity that appeared to be taking place under cover of darkness rather like the photographic work of some inept spy. Now, at least, I’ve improved to the point where you can usually tell which sport is being played.
Of course it helps if you’re seated reasonably close to the action. It’s hard to catch that competitive gleam in a man’s eye when you’re sitting so high up in the cheap seats that the players look like so many ants running around below. It also pays not to get too involved in what you’re watching. You’re not going to accomplish much if, every time your favorite batsman gets a hit, you throw your arms up in the air and scream “YES!!!!”
However, it does help to be familiar with the sport you are endeavoring to photograph. Anticipating the moves can greatly enhance your chances of getting that award-winning shot.
Naturally there are certain obstacles with which to contend such as accessibility and poor lighting but you quickly learn that a fencer does not appreciate flashes going off in his eyes when he’s trying to parry an opponent’s thrust, especially when he comes after you with the foil.
Some years ago, a racing cyclist asked me if I’d be willing to take pictures of him in order that he might check his form and see himself in action, so to speak. (We are talking about him riding a bike here, you understand.) As he rode up and down the street at high rates of speed, I reeled off shot after shot, confident that I would be instrumental in helping him win the big race. When the prints came back, I had several interesting pictures of the road and rather an abstract shot that might have been handlebars, but I couldn’t be certain. I sent them on with my apologies and vowed to myself that I would steer clear of anything on two wheels in future. Of course, in this digital age, something like that would never happen.
I’m never quite sure if horseracing is considered a sport, even though it’s referred to as ‘The Sport of Kings.’ Some people have said that it’s not very sporting for the horses and there are times, sadly, when I have to agree, but there is something so majestic about these wonderful creatures as they step out to circle the paddock before the race, coat shining, muscles rippling. (We are talking about the horse here, not the jockey, you understand.) And I can’t help feeling a thrill of excitement as, hanging over the rail with telephoto lens at the ready, I watch as they come thundering around the final turn for that last desperate sprint to the finish, even if there isn’t a certain amount of cash at stake on the outcome of the race. There are plenty of opportunities for some great shots at the track, both of the action and the interesting people that congregate there.
The one time that I attempted to take pictures of golfers on an actual golf course was not so successful. I’d only just succeeded in snagging a couple of shots when I was rather less than politely told to “CLEAR OFF!!” Does mini-golf count? I’ve got plenty of pictures of that. Not a summer went by when we didn’t pay at least one visit to one of the many mini-golf venues that we frequented in those days, where the kids would assiduously address their ball on the tee and after taking twenty shots at a par 4 hole, would finally drag it into the cup while we spectators cheered hysterically and took pictures to capture the moment for posterity. You would have thought they’d just won the PGA Championship.
For anyone venturing into the realm of sports photography I’d like to offer here a few words of advice.
When taking pictures at a baseball game make sure you have someone with you who will give ample warning when a foul ball comes whistling through the air in your direction.
Don’t stand too close to the pool when taking pictures of a diver. The camera and you are apt to get wet if he belly-flops.
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and don’t stand right behind it either. Cameras are replaceable, you aren’t, which is also an excellent reason for not, under any circumstances, yelling out “BEARS RULE!!” at a Packer’s game in Green Bay. That much, at least, I’ve learned about football.